As your computer business grows, if you are successful you will inevitably reach a point where you can’t possibly handle any more work. Your days are full of client work. Your nights and weekends are spent on administrative tasks. You have to book clients days or weeks out in advance.
This is, of course, a great problem to have. This means you’re successful. You’re building a business and getting more clients. Isn’t that the whole point?
But it can also be frustrating. After all, you want to provide the best possible service to your customers, but you can’t do that as well when you’re constantly running around.
Not to mention the elusive work-life balance. At this point there is no “life” side of the equation.
You may find that its easy to get burned out when you are constantly working. Its hard to find new customers when you’re always servicing your current clients…which means you may eventually reach a dry spell.
All this pain means one thing: you’ve arrived at a turning point in your business. A fork in the road, if you will. You have to decide how to continue growing your business.
Many owners will decide to hire an employee at this point. Its a logical move. Hire an inexpensive recent grad to take care of the dirty jobs while you work with the high end clients and continue to work on the business side of things.
This has worked for many computer shops in the past and is a perfectly legitimate way to build your business.
But if you’re like me, you aren’t interested in hiring employees, and the headaches that can come with that decision. Headaches like:
- Payroll processing
- Providing benefits
- The hiring and firing process
- Quality control (employees will NEVER be as dedicated to the business as you)
- Workplace (if you work at home you’ll probably need to find office space or a storefront)
I’d rather continue building my business on my own terms, without becoming someone’s “boss”.
Whether you’re like me and you simply enjoy working as a one person operation, or you’ve reached the point where you are considering hiring a your first employee, I recommend that you consider some alternatives. The following are a few ways to grow your business, free up some time, and increase your revenue without hiring on an extra body.
Raise Your Rates
This may be an obvious choice, but I find a lot of technicians out there don’t push this to it’s maximum. The benefits here are twofold:
- You’ll be able to earn the same amount of money (or more) from less customers. Therefore you wont need to service as many customers to sustain your current livelihood and you can free up time for other activities.
- By increasing your rates you’ll eventually start to turn away some clients who are always looking for “super cheap”, even if it’s at the expense of quality. By rising above these types of customers, you will find clients who understand the value of what you provide, while avoiding the bickering and haggling that comes from bargain shoppers.
Sounds good, but how do you do it?
I find it’s best to start slowly, but do it consistently. Start by raising your rates by $5-10 every 6 months to a year. Accompany your rate increase announcements with “enhanced service” announcements also. Make it seem like your customers will be getting more from you as a result of this increase. Maybe your hours will be extended, or maybe your response time will be better. This will soften the blow of the increase in price.
As you continue to do this, you’ll be surprised to find how many customers stay on board. If a customer complains about the rate increase, offer to bring them on as a retainer client at the existing rate. They can pre-pay for a block of, say, 5 hours every month at the existing rate. This is a great way to transition your business into a monthly managed services model and provide yourself with a more consistent income.
Finding a computer business niche on which to focus is a great strategy that can enable you to charge higher prices while reducing the amount of clients that seek you out. I talked about this in detail in my post about “catching” your ideal client, but it bears repeating.
Say you really excel at virus removal. If you focus on that service and become the best you possibly can at it, you will begin to earn the reputation as THE virus removal expert. People will come to you when they have a particularly nasty virus that the other computer guys couldn’t remove. Eventually, even other computer techs may refer their work to you.
And because your specialized services are in such high demand, you can charge more for them.
I’ve had success with this with WordPress consulting and I know many other computer techs who have gotten more successful after finding a niche to specialize in.
Selling products is a great way to supplement your income and grow your business. I’m not talking about inventing the next iPhone or starting a fashion line here. What I mean is some sort of “thing” that you create once, but that can be sold over and over again. This can be anything from an ebook to a piece of software to an online course…the possibilities are endless.
Many computer technicians have already done this. Steve Cherubino created Tech Site Builder, Bryce Whitty has his Computer Business Kit, Lisa Hendrickson wrote her eBooks, and Daniel Hand sells his PC Dice. Heck, even I did it with my ebook How to Quit Your Job and Start a Computer Business! These are all examples of products created once, and then sold on an ongoing basis, which can help to grow your income without taking on extra clients.
Be an Affiliate
It used to be that in order to become a resell partner with a particular software company, you had to have a specific volume of sales before the company would even talk to you. That left a lot of us one-man shops out of that game. These days, many products that you may be recommending to your customers have easy-to-apply-for affiliate programs that you can sign up for and start earning a percentage of all sales you refer.
Each affiliate program is a little different. Some offer cash while others offer discounts on their products or a bump up to the next level of service for free. Either way, this is a great way to earn extra money for doing what you do normally: recommend great products to your customers.
Here’s just a small sample of the affiliate partners I use in my own business, with links to their affiliate programs:
- Hostgator Web Hosting
- Carbonite Cloud Backups
- Dropbox Cloud Sync
- Malwarebytes Pro Antivirus
- Amazon.com for parts and peripherals
By making your business processes more efficient, you can reduce the time it takes you to do the mundane administrative tasks in your business, and focus more of that time on making money and growing your business. In order to accomplish this, you’ll need to seek ways to automate your computer business.
I did a great interview with a computer business owner who automated much of his business using custom software. However, if you don’t have the time to code your own software, or the money to hire a software developer, there are many off-the-shelf products that you can use to streamline your business processes.
Many services on the following list “talk” to one or more of the other services listed, so you can link them all together for the ultimate in productivity. While there may be some initial set-up and learning time, they can help to automate many of your day to day tasks and ultimately save you tons of time.
- Freshbooks for invoicing
- GoDaddy Bookkeeping for keeping track of finances
- Shoeboxed for tracking receipts, business cards, scanned documents
- Google Calendar for scheduling and reminders
- Evernote for customer notes and information
- Basecamp for management of large projects
- Square for credit card payment processing
- Aweber for email newsletters
If you’re still set on hiring someone, why not give it a trial run by bringing on contractors, or temporary help, before jumping into the full-time hiring game.
If you’re having an unusually large influx of work, it may just be a temporary spike in demand that will then be followed by a slow period. To help get through this temporary boom, consider just bringing in temporary help. You can look to other local computer techs for help, put an ad on Craigslist, or use one of the many National IT Service platforms to help get you through the busy times without the commitment of hiring full-time staff.
Once you’ve squeezed out all the efficiencies possible using the tips in the Automate section above, it may be time to outsource some of your administrative tasks. Things like bookkeeping, accounting, answering phones and email, advertising, and CRM can be handled by part-time virtual assistants acquired via services like Elance or Virtual Staff Finder.
If you prefer to seek out help from your local community, you can do so as well by contacting local staffing agencies or firms that provide the type of help you’re looking for.
What have you done to grow your business?
There are many ways to grow your business without hiring. In fact, you can run a healthy, successful, and thriving business all by yourself. These days, with all of the amazing services available to us online and off, the possibilities are virtually endless.
Is there a growth strategy I forgot to mention? Let us know about in the comments section below.